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Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Project to Receive National Clean Air Excellence Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will honor the partners behind the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies project — which reduced ship speeds in the Santa Barbara Channel to cut air pollution and protect endangered whale species — with a national Clean Air Excellence Award.

The Clean Air Excellence Awards recognize outstanding efforts to achieve cleaner air. The agencies and organizations who collaborated on this project are one of only a select number of honorees this year. 

“Each of these award winners has taken real, tangible steps to improve public health in their communities by reducing air pollutants or greenhouse gases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “These projects reflect the creativity and commitment of public and private sector organizations to make a difference and drive us toward a cleaner, healthier future.”

The project was recognized in the Community Action category, which applies to innovative community partnerships of diverse stakeholders.

According to Aeron Arlin Genet, air pollution control officer at Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (SBCAPCD), “this award is a great recognition of our partnership and of how much we can accomplish when we find common ground.”

Chris Mobley, superintendent of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) added, “this national honor for our initiative is exciting and will help bring attention to our efforts to craft innovative solutions.”

Reducing ship speeds to 12 knots or slower greatly reduces air pollution and the risk of fatal ship strikes on whales.

In 2014, project partners and award recipients SBCAPCD, CINMS, Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (VCAPCD) and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF) implemented a vessel speed reduction (VSR) incentive trial program in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Seven global shipping companies participated, and the trial slowed 27 ship transits in the channel to 12 knots or less for an incentive payment to the shipping companies of $2500 per transit, cutting more than 12 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides pollution and more than 500 metric tons of greenhouse gases.

“We appreciate EPA’s recognition of our efforts to reduce emissions from marine shipping operations, as these vessels are a significant source of emissions in our jurisdictions,” said Mike Villegas, VCAPCD air pollution control officer.

EDC’s Executive Director Owen Bailey added, “we are grateful for the recognition of this unique project that combines conservation benefits by not only improving air quality but also protecting endangered whales.”

The 2014 trial was followed by a yearlong effort in 2015 by the Marine Shipping Working Group under the CINMS Advisory Council to develop strategies to further reduce air pollution and protect whales in the region.

In its final report to the council, the working group expressed unanimous support for a second VSR incentive program, and partners are currently implementing a 2016 program funded by SBCAPCD, NMSF, the Volgenau Foundation and VCAPCD (an anticipated partner). 

The 2016 program will include new elements such as sliding-scale incentives targeting the fastest ships, identification of a second VSR zone south of the Channel Islands, an opportunity for ship captains to submit detailed reports of whale sightings from their transits and more.

“It’s wonderful to receive this award, as we are in the midst of implementing a larger scale 2016 program, which we hope will continue to have a lasting impact for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the surrounding community,” said NMSF Interim President and CEO Ted Lillestolen.

— The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District is a local government agency that works to protect the people and the environment of Santa Barbara County from the effects of air pollution.

 

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